Jane Kelly reviews The Golden Dream, a film by Diego Quemada-Díez, a Spanish director, which follows four young people, all played by first time actors, across Latin America to their goal in the USA. It is now available to rent on DVD.
They leave their home in Guatemala to travel on the tops of trains, by bus, on foot to their dream of a new life. But the Spanish title of the film, that translates as The Golden Cage’ is a more accurate description of their experiences: the ‘dream’ is of a trap more than an answer.
Migration, fleeing war or poverty, is now common across the world. It is a dangerous and horrifying process and the film forcefully documents just what it is like to journey across thousands of miles, with little or no money, to a new life.
Three teenage friends start out, two boys and a girl, the latter disguised as a boy – for obvious reasons. One rapidly gives up after being arrested, and the two remaining are joined by a Tzotzil Indian boy who speaks no Spanish. In the subtitled version of the film, his words are not translated, so we become aware both of his difficulties in communicating, but also at the same time of his acuity in reading the dangers of any situation.
The relationship between the three is marred by both boys feeling attracted to Sara, the girl, and we become aware of racism towards the Indian. However this is just one way in which the film’s realistic account what life is like for teenagers setting out on such a journey is expressed.
Diega Quemada-Díez was on the crew of several of Ken Loach’s films, including ‘Land and Freedom’ about the Spanish civil war. The use of a non-professional cast and the depiction of the realities faced by them were clearly influenced by Loach’s approach. And for a first film this is a remarkable achievement.
They are faced by the forces of the state, stealing their shoes; by gangsters, also carrying guns, kidnapping all the women migrants, stealing their backpacks and the little money they have; by people traffickers forcing them to become drug mules in order to get across the American border. Nor are they safe once across as snipers track them.
But there are also those, with very little themselves, throwing food and water onto the top of trains to sustain the travellers and a priest who feeds and gives them shelter for the night until the next train arrives.
It would spoil the film to tell what happens to each of them, but one ends up in the US working in an abattoire, cleaning the floors of the bones and fat left behind by the production line.
Earlier in the film Sara and the Indian boy respond to a beautiful tree they sit beside and ‘talk’ about how they miss their homes. The alienation shown in the final scene of the meat factory reveals what a contradictory process migration is. Poverty leading many to desert the places where they were born, only to find some sort of work to keep themselves alive, but in a miserable existence.
So, this is not a film to ‘enjoy’, but it is moving and forceful: to be a migrant or an asylum seeker is not an easy option, but one where there is no real choice.
At a time when migration across the Mediterranean, in leaky boats, or cargo ships whose crew has abandoned them, is often in the news, this film is a graphic account of the reality of seeking refuge from oppressive regimes, civil war and destitution.